“Each window tells a story about the creation of the world, the meaning of history, the purpose of life, the nature of humankind, the mystery of death. The windows of the cathedral are where the light shines through.” – Forrest Church, Cathedral of the World
Last week I used a story about Tom’s early days to present Unitarianism as a living faith; that rather than seek out ready-made answers, we acknowledge that life is tricky but the best (and perhaps only) way to ‘go through life’ is to be immersed in the living of it. To this end, we look to Scripture and religious texts not as unerring but inspired, written from a specific time, place and person-hood, but written with the goal of transcending culture, speaking across centuries.
Today our analogy draws further on this idea: rather than one lifetime, we have millenia from the beginning of religious expression; the ‘living of life’ resulting in the creation of beauty and Divine connection.
The main focus of Church’s analogy – at least the point most people draw towards – is the expression of religious inclusiveness: we acknowledge that all faith holds some measure of beauty and goodness, that they exude some light from God, perfection, or however we may define the Mystery that greets us in our exploring. The same light through different glass can markedly change our view of the world. But ultimately ‘enlightened’ in the Cathedral of the World
To come here today, you will have likely passed Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Jains, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Atheists, those who follow traditional Chinese practices, and many other faiths. Furthermore, each person you will have passed, be they an adherent to any of those belief systems, will have their own place within it – their own perspective of their own faith. Not only is the light shining through the windows of religions, it is shining through each person as well.
Another element may be drawn from this analogy: that of continuing revelation. “… work … begun that shall not be finished in the lifetime of the architects … the patrons … the builders … or the expectant worshipers.” Our lives hold a great potential for spiritual unearthing. Just as every faith manifests some measure of truth, and every person some image of the Divine, so too do our lives reveal some possibility of greater connection and purpose. We are still building our cathedral.
Forrest Church’s image, as it may relate to Unitarianism, speaks even deeper. For although we are talking about the blessing and beauty within each faith, the imagery is still very Christian: a cathedral with stained glass. Our roots in Christianity give some unspoken or (for some churches) rarely seen structure to Unitarianism. These assumptions will colour our interactions, in perhaps subtle ways, but not without effect. Our own analogy of stained glass, it appears, is viewed through stained glass.
The Benedictine Monk Brother David Steindl-Rast describes all faiths as exploring the ‘God-space’ of the heart. Rather than reaching towards a common point, or expressed through the pane of a church window, the image is that of the world, with each culture adapting to its surroundings, developing food, dress, houses and customs that respect the local environment.